Insights & Articles  /  At the Heart of DuMOL

Insights & ArticlesAt the Heart of DuMOL

“As a ‘vineyard up’ winery, we remain very close to the ingredients, close to the vineyards. Our winemaking technique is secondary to what we achieve in the field.”

“It takes time to discover a vineyard’s defining characteristics and even longer to employ the right winemaking technique to draw out those features in the wines. It requires sensitivity, a lightness of touch. We try not to layer in too many winemaking techniques. We try not to obscure the vineyard character. Ultimately, this allows us to achieve a more complex, multi-dimensional, effortless quality in our wines.”

The Hoppe-Kelly is planted on a steep hillside and features rocky, iron-rich, weathered volcanic soils that add an extra dimension of structure to the wines.

We planted the Jentoft Vineyard in 2007 using our own historic vine selections. Once a vine hits about 9-10 years old, the uniformity of the vine growth becomes regular and defined and the resulting fruit quality really takes a strong step ahead.

“We collaborate very closely with our growers, from pruning through to the day of harvest. We work together to express their piece of land in a way that draws out the unique characteristics of each parcel.”

“We get to work with this really fantastic fruit from some of the very best vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. We honor it by making the best wine we possibly can.”

We fine tune and experiment each year and believe that quality comes from layering a whole series of nuances which combine to create the detail we love in our wines.

Many mornings are spent in the vineyards, collecting samples for analysis, tasting fruit, and monitoring the vines.

“Our farmers need to know that they are working for a reason. I think when we work really hard in the winery to do the best we can with their fruit it makes them want to work harder too. So, each year, we’re only getting better at it, in the field and in the winery.”

It’s exciting to see the quality of the grapes we achieve through months of precise viticulture and responsive farming, anticipating the quality of the finished wines.

“The date we harvest a specific block in a vineyard – or the entire vineyard – is the most important decision we make all year because that sets the tone for the final wine. We’re visiting the vineyards every couple of days, focusing on the maturity of the vine – where we think the ripeness is going to go and how that translates to the final flavor in the wine. This is an ongoing process that can only be done in the field and it comes from a depth of experience and that vision of winemaking – the taste, the structure, the intensity can all be tracked back to the day of harvest.”

“It’s important to have a strong sense of vision for how you want the wine to communicate. With experience you learn how to create that roadmap from grape to bottle.”

Our barrel program focuses on a handful of select artisan coopers.

Each of our coopers creates a barrel with specific character, whether it’s the full bodied, masculine style of Tonnellerie Remond; the complex, savory style of Tonnellerie Chassin; the elegant, subtle details of Tonnellerie Ermitage; or the texture and depth that comes from Tonnellerie Atelier Centre France.

For Pinot Noir we concentrate on the cool Green Valley and Sonoma Coast areas of Western Sonoma County where ridgetop soils, eastern exposures and fog-influences combine to produce grapes that are both delicate and concentrated.

“We are committed to Sonoma County and we farm sustainably for the long term. We support a dynamic, holistic culture of food and wine. You can’t separate the quality of the wine from the culture of the region.”

Our crew starts to harvest at 11 pm and will harvest until 7 am.

We harvest the grapes at night so the cool, firm fruit remains intact during its short journey to the winery.

“During élevage, the raising of the wine in the barrel, you need to know when to nudge the wine in a certain direction, and know when to let the wine evolve at its own pace. Patience is very important at this stage. We listen to what each wine needs individually instead of imposing a preconceived idea of what a particular wine should be.”

In the winery we work in a patient, sensitive and classical manner to maintain all the natural nuances and fine details of the fruit.

“The first time we open and taste that vintage after it’s bottled, all those small decisions came together, all that hard work meant something.”

“Winemaking is an amazing journey. Every year it’s changing and every year you go through a whole spectrum of events and hard work. Then, at the end, you have this product that is a time capsule. When you uncork it, it tells the story of everything that happened over that year, every factor in the vineyard, all that effort.”

Insights & ArticlesA Study of our Vineyards

“The vision of the winemaker starts in the field.”

We have the great privilege of farming small select parcels across more than two dozen very special vineyard sites.

It takes time, working with a vineyard, to discover its defining characteristics. Then, it takes even longer to use the right winemaking techniques and sensitivity to highlight those features in the wine. A lightness of touch in our winemaking allows us to achieve a more complex, multi-dimensional, “effortless” quality in our wines.

Over two decades, we’ve gained access to some truly legendary sites. And we’ve achieved close personal relationships with our growers. Our shared respect for the land, our dedication to the work, and our mutual respect for each other, carry through to the final product. We work with good people and we’re going to make some amazing wines.

From first pruning through to the day of harvest, we’re out there farming the land in a way that draws out the singularity of each parcel. We minimize our footprint in the vineyard, stay very close to the “ingredients” and let the vineyards speak for themselves.

Insights & ArticlesHighlighting Our 20th Vintage

Our 20th Vintage wines reflect our savoir-faire, 20 years of local knowledge and craftsmanship. They speak to two decades of incremental improvements, our continual honing of vision, method, and style – the rich, powerful wines of our early years and the greater poise and detail of our more recent efforts.

We consider the 2014 vintage perhaps our finest ever, certainly our most pure, balanced and tucked-in for the long haul. We aged both blends in barrels from our inaugural barrel maker, Tonnellerie Remond. Bottled as a magnum duo, I urge you to enjoy the wines together, during a relaxed, luxuriant dinner with friends and family, whether in weeks to come or in seven years’ time.

The 2014 20th Vintage Chardonnay comes from our three oldest vineyard sources and a young pretender: 42-year-old Ritchie, 40-year-old Lorenzo, and 32-year-old Charles Heintz are interwoven with our recently come-of-age Estate, planted with our own wits and by our own hands in 2004. The blend delivers both cerebral and seductive elements and, while not obvious or flashy, resonates and pulsates. Intricate aromas of flint, citrus oil, lime zest, and notes of fresh green herbs are all present here. There’s a precision to the wine – fine-boned acidity and focus – but also a deep, layered fruitiness and broad underlying almond richness. Revisiting it over four days, the recorked magnum continued to drink beautifully, hinting at its cellar potential.

The 2014 20th Vintage Pinot Noir possesses all the brilliant characteristics of its vintage – ethereal and racy, silky and fine, textured and deep. Its components evoke both our roots and our future: Widdoes, planted in 1984; Occidental Road, planted in 1990; Wildrose Estate, planted in 1999; and the heir-apparent, our own Estate, planted in 2004, now fully mature and our finest source. Rhubarb, raspberry and cherry, hibiscus and smoke on the nose open to a hint of early truffle maturity, rosehips and savory herbs. The wine remains vibrant and juicy even as its inherent richness assumes center stage. It’s classic coastal Russian River Valley – beautiful and complete.

With twenty years of working these vineyards and wines, I can see each personality and vineyard trait in these blends. I can’t help but identify the points of connection, the communication between these distinct vineyard voices, how they simultaneously harmonize and express their individual origins. But rather than over analyze the blends, I prefer to sit back and simply enjoy them. Ultimately, the pair embodies our passion: compelling examples of what we love to do, wines we love to drink, vineyards we love to farm, people we love to work alongside, and relationships we hold close.

Insights & ArticlesReflections on Our 2018 Spring Release

After the historically low crop of 2015, the vines bounced back heartily to produce a normal-sized vintage of outstanding quality. The wines lead with delicious coastal Californian fruit front and center. Textures are generous and round, each wine layered and supple. The growing season itself was a relaxed affair, absent of any single defining event — neither frost, nor heat, nor untimely rain. Maybe that’s why the wines are so charming and harmonious, the quality so uniformly thrilling. 

For our 21st release, we have elevated our selection for you and crafted a number of new Member-exclusive wines not available elsewhere — neither restaurants nor wine shops. Deep local knowledge and refined craftsmanship are at the core of this progression. We’ve been quietly conceiving these wines for several years.

First up, we have segregated our former Russian River Valley wines to focus on our favorite middle-ridge area for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This unique area — where elevation, soil type, fog intrusion and vine growth reach perfect equilibrium — I call the Highland Divide. These two new wines are evocative of this local district where we live and grow our best grapes. It’s one of those places where quality comes naturally and effortlessly. The vines are perfectly happy here! 

Next, our Wild Mountainside Viognier and Syrah are natural partners, advancing our Rhone-style offerings into refined territory. These new bottlings evoke the highly eroded upland soils and unique microclimates we find on our volcanic coastal mountains. The greatest Viognier and Syrah wines worldwide always have a bit of wildness to them, a certain unruly nature, hard to tame. That’s what we have here — great quality, loaded with character. They’ll make a spectacular dinner double bill!

Lastly, we offer our latest bottling of Joy Road Pinot Noir, our brightest, most vibrant, naturally energetic Pinot. 2016 is our finest effort yet from this special high-density coastal vineyard located a short four miles from the Pacific.

I hope you enjoy these new bottlings as much as we enjoyed conceiving, growing and crafting them. We invite you to share your impressions with us. 

— Andy Smith

Insights & ArticlesCultivating an Estate

“One of the greatest privileges for a winemaker is to plant a piece of land.”—Andy Smith

Around our eighth year of wine growing, we realized that to truly be a world-class wine producer we needed an estate property – an exceptional vineyard of our own that would bring gravitas and longevity to our winery. With extensive searching, in early 2004, we discovered a beautiful set of ridge top east-facing plateaus in the Green Valley area of the Russian River Valley – west of Highway 116 about 10 miles from the Pacific. What I loved about the land wasn’t only its ideal sun exposure and cooling from afternoon breezes and proximity to fog coming up from the southi. It was the site’s incredibly diverse soils – three signature soil types: Classic Goldridge sandy clay loam on the top plateau; very sandy, shallow soils with sandstone bedrock very close to the surface in the middle section; and iron-rich Altamont soil in the lower section. This was a unique parcel of land that we needed to develop in a very meaningful way.

We set about planting the vineyard in a manner that would allow us to really drill down into the site itself – really capitalize on these very distinctive soil compositions, each incredibly influential on the character of the fruit we were to growii. We chose to plant our favorite field clone selectionsiii along European vine density parameters. Instead of the typical 1,200 vines per acre planted in Northern California, we planted an extremely high density 3,630 vines per acre – perhaps the highest density site on the north coast. Farming such a high-density vineyard is incredibly labor intensive but yields exceptional fruit.

We had a vision for the finished wines as we planted the vineyardiv. It is imperative to develop a vineyard with a style in mind. This particular method of high-density planting forces the vines to delve deep into the soils. This keeps the vines very small and each vine produces a small number of clusters with small, very concentrated berries. Each vine focuses its energy on producing very intense flavors with nuance and detail, power and richness, depth balanced with a fresh, vibrant fruit character.

We’ve worked with our estate for more than 14 years now and have seen the vines settle into a beautiful equilibrium with the land. The wines have become more complex, harmonious and complete over time. Our continual evolution is a combination of the vines’ coming of age and the winemaker intimately knowing the land over time, understanding how the vines will respond season to season.

Our most recent estate wines are, perhaps, the finest wines I have ever crafted.